I’m not sure how sharks, exactly, became the “go to” movie monster du jour for the last forty years. Well, strike that, I know exactly how, but their longevity bewilders me. Jaws was a pretty big deal – the first proper “blockbuster” as we’ve come to understand the term – so rip-offs were inevitable. And sure, sharks are pretty scary, but considering how little time the average human being spends on the open water the actual likelihood of coming face to snout with these carnivorous creatures has always been pretty slim. Then again, if you could conceivably run into a Great White at the supermarket, I’d understand the obsession completely.
I guess Kimble Rendall must have read my mind, because Bait 3D, now available on Blu-ray, takes sharks and actually puts them in a supermarket. If you listen closely, you can still hear the echo of the screenwriters (including Russell Mulcahy, the director of the original Highlander) giggling with impish delight over actually writing a feature length screenplay based on this concept. The obvious comparison of Snakes on a Plane is actually pretty apt, if you’re willing to concede that Snakes on a Plane was actually a pretty good movie. The concept was ludicrous, but they never apologized for it. Taking “snakes on a plane” or “sharks in a supermarket” seriously is funnier than playing it for laughs. And if you take even the craziest concept seriously, you wind up with an audience who gets involved anyway.
That’s the case with Bait, a motion picture that works beyond the inherent punchline because it’s got a fine cast, a strong sense of suspense and a story structure that owes more to The Poseidon Adventure than the latest SyFy Channel Original Movie. A tidal wave wrecks the coast of Australia, trapping a group of disparate individuals – including former lovers with a tragic past, and a career criminal who was in the process of robbing the joint – atop the aisles while man-eating sharks, washed into the store during the cataclysm, slowly weave throughout the market. They have to solve a series of problems from disaster movie, claustrophobic thriller and man vs. nature films in order to survive, and the action intercuts between the main set of heroes and a handful of comic relief characters trapped in the parking lot below the store to keep the relative lack of momentum from getting tedious.
I wish I could say that Bait felt like more than a successful genre exercise, but even that’s exceeding expectations for a film with such a ludicrous concept. There aren’t terribly many interesting themes being explored, and the cast (which includes Step Up 3D’s Sharni Vinson and Fantastic Four’s Julian MacMahon) elevates their stock character types without sending them into the stratosphere. Bait is an effectively b-movie thriller, clever when it needs to be, always suspenseful and usually very fun. It doesn’t make the Olympic team of horror classics, but it made a respectable showing and, in a year that’s relatively light on strong horror offerings, certainly deserves a spot as an alternate. The Blu-ray looks mighty fine for a low-budget production, but the lack of special features is unfortunate, since the crew must have had pretty fun personalities to embrace the rampant silliness and bring you a serious, and seriously entertaining motion picture in the process.